Over the past couple of years, I’ve received several emails and DM’s asking for advice and tips on getting the most out of your Walt Disney World vacation; whether with or without kids.  Readers have asked if they should use the Magical Express or take a taxi from the airport, which hotels we love, etc.  Today, I’m sharing some of my tips, tricks and the special activities that we love to take part in when we’re visiting the WDW.  I’m not covering every aspect of booking your trip or selecting tickets but more outlining some of the extra services and activities that we utilize, some that are free and others with an additional cost.  To start, you can also check out my previous Walt Disney World Vacation posts and feature about my favorite Snacks at WDW.

DISNEY’S MAGICAL EXPRESS 

If you’re flying in to the Orlando Airport (MCO); whether from out of state or within Florida and staying at a WDW hotel, take advantage of this big money saving bus service.  It’s FREE!  To find the Magical Express busses, head to SIDE B of the terminal and then down to Level 1 Ground Transportation.  Follow the signs and have your Magic Bands ready as you will use them to check-in for the busses.  Not to worry, if don’t have them on you, they can look up your reservations in their computers.  One of the few downsides of staying at The Dolphin or Swan Hotels, which we LOVE is that you can’t use the Magical Express.   Instead we take a taxi which take advantage of all of the tourists headed to WDW and upcharge the rate to about $75 to an area hotel. (Rip-off!) When returning to the airport we take an uber which will be about $20-$30 cheaper than the taxi depending on traffic but uber isn’t allowed to pick up at the aiport.  When Disney is offering a special rate at The Boardwalk Hotel, we book that instead of the Swan/Dolphin.  The money we save by taking the free bus to and from the airport cuts back on the price difference and allows us the special treat of staying at our favorite WDW hotel.  The Swan/Dophin provide almost all other WDW Hotel perks such as free transportation to the parks, and making FP+ 60 days in advance.  It’s also an amazing location, walking distance to the back entrance of Epcot (Right next to FRANCE!) or quick boat ride to Hollywood Studio’s.

To find out more about this service including how to handle checked luggage and your airport return, read HERE 

COST:  FREE

**Magic Bands are free when staying at a WDW Hotel and will be mailed to you in advance.  (Don’t forget to order them when you book your room, they won’t arrive automatically)  When staying at other hotels, you need to purchase the bands online or at the Parks.  You’ll use these to enter the parks, use Fastpass+, pay for food and shopping at the parks (only when staying at WDW hotel) and playing the Sorcerer game.

<NEW> EXPRESS TRANSPORTATION OPTION

A new service with a small added fee that we think is 100% worth it.  This service was launched November 2016 and we added it onto to our Park Hopper tickets during our trip over the holidays.  The option is currently $29/person (for up to 7 days) and if you are like us and do a lot of Park Hopping throughout your stay, this will save you A LOT of TIME and HASSLE that sometimes comes along with long lines and security at each park entrance.  With this service, once you have entered your first park of the day, let’s say for ex: Magic Kingdom, you will no longer need to enter the main entrance of any park, go through any security check points or stand-up in any crowded busses traveling to each park.   Instead, you will report to designated areas within each park where you meet a castmember who will walk you through the backstage area (no photos allowed) and enter a different bus that will take you to park of your choice and give you the ability to enter another side entrance.  It’s a life saver for us as we like to park hop two, sometimes three times a day.  The image below shows an example of what the signs look like and here are some additional details:

  • A bus to each park leaves about every 30 minutes & travels direct to the parks with no stops along the way
  • Service begins at 10am each day regardless of park opening time
  • Use this service an unlimited number of times each day

Where to find Check-In Locations at Each Park:

  • Magic Kingdom: In between Buzz Lightyear & The Carousel of Progress (If we’ve arrived but just missed our bus, we kill time by hopping on COP, one of our favorite relaxing rides)
  • Epcot: East side of Spaceship Earth before you would normally walk over to the standard transportation area
  • Disney’s Hollywood Studios: The courtyard in front of Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster
  • Disney’s Animal Kingdom park: near the entrance to Dawa Bar right by the Safari.  This is a HUGE time saver for us personally as Safari is always our first Fast Pass at AK  so we no longer have to walk through the entire park to get there and can now arrive at the same time as our time slot.

If you plan to use this service, I suggest going to each check-in station to find out the bus times so that you know when to return without having just missing your bus to the next park.  They leave about the same time throughout the day: ie: MK -> AK at every :30 of each hour, MK –> Epcot at every :45 of each hour and so on.  It’s different in each park

If you are a large group of family or friends then yes $29/person does add up but if you have a limited number of days on your vacation, it really will give you a lot of extra time to maximize your days and really make the most of your trip.  Also, if this were to increase to a price more like $50/person, I don’t think we would use it unless for a high-traffic day such as Christmas and then we would likely just add it on for 1 day.

COST:  $19/person for 1 day OR $29/person (for up to 7 days – NOT per day)

FASTPASS +

Having been to WDW more times than I can count, we don’t feel the need to ride every single ride on every trip and that helps cut back on how much time we spend in lines.  My FastPass+ strategy is to make sure we have them set up for our absolute favorite rides that are known to have the longest lines.  When you stay at a WDW hotel, you can sign up for your FastPass+ 60 days in advance, whereas not staying in a hotel you can only sign up 30 days in advance.  Such an amazing perk of staying at a Disney hotel.

Try to book your FP+ as close together as you can and for the first part of the day.  See the image below with my upcoming FP+ schedule for the Magic Kingdom.  This will gives you the afternoon to sign up for new FP+.  To start, you are only allowed to sign up for 3 FP+.  As soon as you scan yourself into the 3rd ride, you can immediately go back into the APP and find new FP+ as you’re going through the current line.

TIP for when to use your 1st FP: If your first FP+ is for 9am-10am slot, then don’t get on the ride until about 9:50am.  Spend time before that either eating breakfast, enjoying a semi-quiet park or riding other rides while the lines are small.  If you get on the ride at 9am then you will have another hour before your next FP.  This way you can also go straight from the 1st ride to your 2nd FP+ ride.

The below isn’t the entire list of our favorite rides at each park but rather our favorite rides to FastPass by park:

Magic Kingdom:  Peter Pan, Splash Mountain and Haunted Mansion are our must-rides that generally have long long lines.  Our next group of favorites that we like to pick up FP for is Pirates of the Caribbean, Space and Thunder Mountain, and It’s a Small World.  Traveling with kids, you may want to FP+ The Jungle Cruise, Winnie The Pooh, Tomorrowland Speedway, and Dumbo as those seem to have pretty extensive lines.  I’ll be honest, we’ve been on the SEVEN DWARFS MINE TRAIN once and don’t really need to again unless we happen upon a FP opening after we’ve already been on our favorites.  The ride is over so quickly and not nearly as good of a roller coaster as the park’s original coasters, SPACE MOUNTAIN, THUNDER MOUNTAIN or even SPLASH MOUNTAIN. I personally do not think its worth waiting in such a long line for and can’t believe some guests wait more than 2 hours.

Epcot:  Soarin’ with the 9am-10am slot but we go right at the end.  I always start my day at Epcot with a quiet breakfast at the France Pavilion,  Next we’ll FP Spaceship Earth and if there is time to spare in between we do the other attractions at the Living Land.  Visiting with kids, then you’ll definitely want to prioritize the Frozen ride in Norway and Turtle Talk with Crush.

Hollywood Studios:  Tower of Terror, Star Tours and Toy Story Mania.  Note, while this is one of the most popular rides at HS, it’s very similar to Buzz Lightyear in MK so if you’ve been on the Buzz Lightyear ride, you can skip this one if you can’t get a FP. Kids do really love it though so you may not be able to convince them to skip it for Buzz Lightyear.

Animal Kingdom:  The Safari, Kali River Rapids and starting with our next trip, one of the Avatar Rides.  Since you can only select a Fastpass+ for 1 of the 2 Avatar rides at a time, the best option is to start with FLIGHTS OF PASSAGE as its a slower moving line than NA’VI RIVER JOURNEY.  TIP:  Start your morning at Animal Kingdom and arrive right when the park opens.  From there head to NA’VI RIVER JOURNEY   before the line gets too long & then time your FP+ for FLIGHTS OF PASSAGE and SAFARI or another one of your favorite rides.

*Note for FP+ with Kids:  If the kids in your group would love to meet, get photos and autographs from Mickey + Minnie or the princesses then you may want to also FP+ the Character Meet n Greets.  Especially important at MK and HS as these lines tend to get pretty long.

*If people in your group whether kids or adults, are really excited about the evening night shows, choosing a Fastpass+ for one of those will grant you a spot in a special area with a great view.  This will however prevent you from selecting many FP during the day as you will need to book this one in advance.  It’s nice for a special occasion like celebrating a birthday or a child’s first trip, etc.

COST:  FREE

This image shows my Fastpass selections for our upcoming trip in July.  We will hop on Peter Pan around 10am, then Haunted Mansion right after.  From there we will likely ride It’s a Small World before heading over to Splash Mountain.  As soon as  I scan my band at Splash Mountain, I’ll be on the app making our next selections.

*Note this is based on arriving at the park around 8am for ‘Extra Magic Hours’ and using the first 2 hours to hop on a few rides while the lines are still short.  If I were arriving at standard opening time of 9am then I would start my FP+ an hour later.

SORCERERS OF THE MAGIC KINGDOM

A few years ago I started noticing people around the Magic Kingdom, stopping to play a game with cards that would unlock secret areas in boutiques, outside of rides, and other areas of the park.  I was jealous and needed to find out what they were doing and how!  Turns out, it’s the Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom, a free game that you can play for as little or as long as you want while you’re at the park.  To start, stop into the firehouse at the front of Main Street to pick up a set of playing cards and receive a tutorial.  They will give you a map and instruct you where to start your first mission.  Use your magic band to activate the game at each station (Touch the keyhole seen at the bottom of the below photo)  Each day you enter the park, you can pick up additional cards with the goal of collecting the entire set.  The cards showcase characters and have different spell and shield powers to fight the bad guys like Ursula and Mufasa.  If you end up with any duplicates, you can trade them with a castmember stationed outside the firehouse or with other players around the park.  There are no time limits and you can stop and restart each mission at your convenience throughout the day.  If you are using the same magic band, the game is synced so you can also resume on different days.  If you have a different band, then you need to restart the game.  Be warned, some players are pretty intense and territorial.  I actually have no idea which cards are best for which scenario and just guess.  If you get it wrong, you just try again.  It’s still fun even if you don’t know all of the details.

COST:  FREE

EPCOT WORLD SHOWCASE PASSPORTS

When you visit EPCOT during the Flower + Garden Festival, Food + Wine Festival or during the holidays, be sure to pick up a World Showcase Passport.  It’s a fun activity to do over the course of your trip and you can learn extra details about the cultures and food created in each countries.  I have yet to fill my passport with 100% of stamps but got pretty close this past holiday season. Better luck next time 🙂

COST:  FREE

WINE WALK AROUND THE WORLD

Yes, Adults can have a blast at Walt Disney World too!  While the options for alcohol in each of the parks is growing, my favorite is the World Showcase at Epcot.  You can literally ‘drink your way around the world.’  You can even find Facebook groups dedicated to this topic.  Some of our favorites, are the frozen drinks like the below in France with Saint Germain liquor and Vodka.  It really helps keep you cool and refreshed on a hot afternoon.

If you’d like to take part in a fun activity where you can drink some alcohol and learn about different wines throughout the world, then the WINE WALK is for you.  What started out exclusively during the Food + Wine Festival, is now available year round.  For $30, you can enjoy 2 wine tastings in Italy, Germany and France.  You’ll taste a white and red in each country and even get to keep the signature event wine glass.  Start out at the participating country of your choice where you will receive the glass and a passport to jot down any notes about the wine and get a stamp as you travel to each ‘country.’  This is on the top of my list for our trip in July.

COST:  $30 / person

SEASONAL EVENTS

  • Epcot Flower + Garden Festival: One of my favorites!  I missed it this year (’17) but was there the previous two years.  I love the character topiaries around the park, and similar to the F+W festival, there are special food stalls set up throughout the park where you can pick up small plates of absolutely delicious food (and alcohol) at a not so high price.
  • Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party:  The only time during the year when adults are allowed to be in costume at WDW.  By rule, only kids can be in costume.  Bring along a bag for trick-or-treating!
  • Epcot Food + Wine Festival:  Another one that I LOVE and already planning to attend this year.  It’s become so popular they continue to expand the dates and is now from end of August to mid-November.  I recommend the special Parisian breakfast events at the France Pavilion that take place on the weekends. Book far in advance as this is really popular and tends to sell out.
  • Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party:  My friend Keiko goes every year with her family and has the best time.  Just make sure to check dates before book your trip as it usually ends by around December 20th, before the peak Christmas crowds begin.

COST:  Additional tickets required for Mickey’s Halloween and Christmas parties while Epcot’s seasonal festivals are included in daily park admission.

GENERAL TIPS and PERSONAL FAVORITES:

  • If you use a smartphone, then you’ll want to download the MY DISNEY EXPERIENCE APP.  This will be your go-to resource when making and changing FP+ and dining reservations, checking wait times for rides and character meet ‘n greets, finding locations of bathrooms, all types of dining and more.  You’ll have FREE wifi in the parks so it won’t cost you anything on your data plan.
  • Even though it’s a vacation, waking up early to arrive at the Magic Kingdom when it opens really does give you a great start to the day as on most days (not on major holidays), the parks are less crowded in the mornings.  I really enjoying taking a stroll around the park when its not packed and you can always take an afternoon nap in your hotel room or by the pool if you’re tired
  • On days where it may be a bit more crucial/helpful to arrive at the parks right when they open, we skip the free Disney bus and take an uber or Lyft direct to the park.  Rather than wake up extra early to ensure we get to the park at opening, we spend $5-$10 and get a bit more time in bed which I need.  For ex: We took an uber to Magic Kingdom on Christmas morning  and plan to take one to Animal Kingdom in July so we can get in and out of Pandora before it gets too packed.
  • Harbour House in the Magic Kingdom is my favorite fast casual option for lunch, of all of the parks.  The upstairs dining area is usually much less crowded than most locations and they have a variety of menu options, even some healthy, delicious ones.
  • At Epcot, you can’t go wrong dining anywhere at the France Pavilion as it is one of the few locations in all of WDW where 100% of the food is made fresh each day on premises.  Everything from hundreds of demi baguettes, croissants, macaroons, and ice cream are made each day.  Some other dinner favorites in Epcot include Morocco, Mexico and Japan.  Napoli pizza is still on the list to try but we did pick some up at the pizza to-go window last summer.  It was just OK, nothing to great and I wouldn’t stop there again.  I’ve heard great things about the pizza in the restaurant.
  • We usually make advance dinner reservations but keep it more casual for lunch.  We typically eat dinner at a different country in World Showcase at Epcot each night.  For our upcoming trip in July, I booked Rose & Crown in the UK, Spice Road Table in Morocco and for the first time we are going to try the Skipper Canteen at MK. I timed that to end just before the fireworks will start.  Note you need to cancel 24 hours in advance, otherwise they charge a small fee.  You can however move your reservation location and/or time on the same day based on availability without a fee.
  • Nothing comes close to how amazing a Dole Whip soft serve is in Adventureland.  Pick one up and then watch the TIki Room show. (they let you bring in food/drinks)
  • On the day we head home, we usually schedule our flight out to leave for early afternoon which gives us time for the breakfast buffet at the Animal Kingdom Lodge.  It’s one of our favorite meals.
  • When it’s a super hot afternoon and we’re in need of some A/C or just some time to relax we have our favorite spots – Carousel of Progress and The People Mover (We could ride this all day if they would let us) at MK, The Great Movie Ride and Muppet 3-D at HS, and The American Adventure and Gran Fiesta Tour at Epcot.
  • I recommend and always follow the standard tips like wear sunscreen, drink LOTS of water, snack on the fresh fruit you can now find around the parks, and wear comfortable shoes.  My bag has band-aids, sunscreen and a bottle of water in it at all times.
  • I’m a creature of habit and love picking up my morning coffee when I’m headed out for the day.  While I don’t stop in everyday at the parks, there are some mornings I really need my Starbucks fix.  When the cups are this cute, it’s hard to resist.

Don’t forget, you can catch most of the fireworks shows from many areas outside of the parks.  The above is the fireworks at Hollywood Studio’s while watching from The Boardwalk.  You can watch the Magic Kingdom’s fireworks from all of the MK area hotels.  In July, we’re planning to watch them on the night we arrive in Orlando from the Polynesian Resort Beach with a Tiki Cocktail in hand.

If you’re traveling to WDW with kids and want a more in-depth look at what to do, read my friend Keiko’s blog post HERE.

Anyone else heading to Walt Disney World this year? Please share any of your favorites things to do/eat, tips or ask questions in the below comments.

Use these links to book your trip:

BOOK A WALT DISNEY WORLD HOTEL

BOOK THE SWAN OR DOLPHIN HOTELS 

PURCHASE PARK TICKETS 

MAKE DINING RESERVATIONS

xx, Angie

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